DHA Health Benefits in Pregnancy

omega-3 benefits and sources

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DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid often recommended for women during pregnancy. Thought to potentially protect against a number of pregnancy-related complications, DHA is also said to possibly promote the health of the developing child.

Found in cold-water oily fish and in seaweed, DHA is also widely available in supplement form, particularly since big fish are recommended in moderation during pregnancy to avoid excess mercury ingestion. In addition, the body naturally produces small amounts of DHA.

Uses for DHA in Pregnancy

DHA may be associated with modest improvements in neurodevelopment in offspring, and is thought to potentially prevent certain health problems associated with pregnancy, such as preeclampsia.

Since DHA is essential for neurological and visual development, women commonly take DHA during pregnancy to ensure that the developing child gets a sufficient amount of DHA.

Benefits of DHA During Pregnancy

Here's a look at key findings from studies on the use of DHA during pregnancy:

Reduced Asthma

Researchers are still studying how DHA may help prevent or reduce allergy and asthma symptoms in children. A study published in 2018 did recommend fish oil supplementation for certain pregnant women to reduce asthma in their children.

Preeclampsia

A 2018 review and meta-analysis of randomized trials comparing placebo and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy showed a trend toward lower preeclampsia risk. Other research, such as the Kansas University DHA Outcomes Study, supports the claim that DHA supplementation may reduce the prevalence of early pre-term births (while noting that improvements in visual attention in babies whose mothers supplemented do not seem to be lasting).

Caveats

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), consuming DHA in the form of fish oil is likely safe during pregnancy. The NIH advises limiting your fish oil intake to three grams per day during pregnancy.

It's important to note that taking DHA in the form of fish oil is known to cause a number of side effects, including bad breath, heartburn, and nausea, sometimes called "fish burps."

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, in general, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

Where to Find It

Widely available for purchase online, DHA supplements are sold in many drugstores, grocery stores, natural-food stores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

A Word From Verywell

Since DHA might offer certain benefits to both the expectant mother and her developing child, it may be helpful to take DHA during pregnancy. However, if you're considering taking a DHA supplement, it's essential that you consult your physician first.

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  1. Neutze D, Evans KL, Koenig M, Castelli G, Mounsey A. PURLs: Does fish oil during pregnancy help prevent asthma in kids?. J Fam Pract. 2018;67(2):100-102.

  2. Middleton P, Gomersall JC, Gould JF, Shepherd E, Olsen SF, Makrides M. Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;11:CD003402. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003402.pub3

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